Review Summary: Emperor's crowning achievement. Anus.com doesn't know what they are talking about.
I am going to jump on the bandwagon and proclaim, (among millions of others.) that this is THE definitive album for the symphonic black metal genre. Make no mistake, this is a blatantly more mainstream oriented album than In the Nightside Eclipse. It's more accessible in many ways, and the musicianship has been stepped up several notches due to the addition of Trym and Ihsahn's matured song writing skills.
The production in one of cleanest I have ever heard, in black metal- in a sharp and piercing sort of way, it's even cleaner than some of Dimmu's offerings. but it's also kind of flat- not too far removed from Naglfar's mid career releases with a little more meat. The triggered drums are sharp and high in the mix, the rhythm guitars float somewhere in the midsection, and the keyboards compete for dominance with the lead guitars. It also might be just me, but the bass stands out on almost the same level as the rhythm guitars, but it might be simply due to the fact that all the instruments are pretty much on one and the same level, causing a sort of flatness in the music. Somehow, this doesn't work to the band's detriment (unlike Naglfar), instead, it stands to show every single member's contribution to every piece, creating a quality experience even with crappy ear phones. It's a peculiar way they produced this album, but it works.
The songs themselves are 'micro symphonies' that are melodramatic in nature, but still play out in the same nihilistic manner as In the Nightside Eclipse without degenerating into cheesiness. There are moments of 'heroic' blasting keyboards and almost pleasant sounding guitars, but these only serve as interludes into discordant, contemplative tri-tone interval based riffs that pulse with the barely contained energy of inevitably evolving into sickening parodies of neoclassical melody. The presence of clean vocals are also increased quite notably, making notable appearances in songs such as With Strength I Burn, and the end of Thus Spake the Night Spirit.Trym blasts and kicks the *** out of his drum kick as the seemingly overplayed patterns give a rumbling 'earthquake' feel, lending to the epic atmosphere- it's done like Behemoth, but better and more tasteful. The keyboards sound like an actual symphony rather than the casio sounding tinny ones in their previous effort. Ihsahn's light-on-their-feet neoclassical guitar riffs flutter their way across the songs effortlessly, possessing the ability to go from sounding like crushing chainsaws to instruments of dark majestic triumph. The shrieks are throatier and veering dangerously close to Soilwork's fry screaming lead singer, but they work with the music when Ihsahn decides to take his voice to higher pitches. The same can't be said for his midtone though, since too much of his normal voice shows through his 'froggy croak' as I like to call it. (this shows like a sore thumb in his later solo efforts such as angL) Despite the hit-or-miss nature of Ihsahn's peculiar vocals, the music comes together beautifully and manages to set the bar incredibly high in terms of pure 'epicness' and musicianship. So far, nothing I've heard has come even close to this release in those regards, (except Redemption Process and some of Menhir's stuff.)
In closing, if you are a self respecting metal fan, you WILL get this album. That's right, it's an imperative. This is music at it's peak. I may sound very fan boyish, but I think I speak for a large majority of the metal community when I say THIS ALBUM RULES.